Year 10 student Benjamin Lenehan has created a working prototype of a renewable energy power panel that runs on moisture in the air – an invention he hopes will become a major player in the renewable energy market.
Ben started his venture in March, when he set out to create a electricity generator from nitrogen. He said he found it challenging working with the nitrogen canisters and then when he turned it off one time, he noticed that energy was still being created. So he did some testing and discovered that the moisture in the air could be used to create renewable energy that could effectively work 24 hours a day. After months of testing various materials and approaches to get the largest voltage possible, Ben has managed to create a prototype, called the NitroNet, that has an output of 190 volts – using moisture in the air!
“Ultimately, I want to sell this product as a panel that can output 240 volts – the amount required to power an entire house,” Ben shared. “I think I’m further ahead in the development of this type of renewable technology than anyone else [in the world], and I hope to have something that can be sold to consumers in the next year or so.”
Ben’s invention hasn’t come by chance. He says he has spent countless hours every day since March developing the technology.
“I’ve personally funded it with my own money, and I’ve come to realise firsthand that research and development comes with significant expenses, but the investment has certainly proved to be worthwhile. All the money I make working at the chicken shop (part-time after school) I have poured into testing and development,” he says. “The prototype is very cheap to make at just $6.50 for the 190-volt variant, but I’ve had to test and change materials and processes, so I’ve turned part of mum’s kitchen into a chemistry lab to do experiments every evening after dinner.”
I’ve turned part of mum’s kitchen into a chemistry lab to do experiments every evening after dinner.
Ben has wisely patented the product in Australia and the UK, including the unique combination of elements and materials used.
“The beauty of NitroNet is that it works 24/7, is cheap and portable and only needs access to air to operate. I have been testing different processes and combinations to increase the output and also am conducting endurance testing to ensure it will be a sustainable product in the long-term,” Ben says. “I hope this technology can eventually be integrated into EVs and used in the products of major multinational corporations, such as Apple.”
When Ben realised he was creating something with great market potential, he, along with the support of his brother, entered the local youth entrepreneurial business competition Spark Tank, where he was required to pitch his business plan and invention in front of a panel of judges and audience. They were very impressed with Ben’s working prototype, which powered two high-powered lights. As the winner, Ben received $5000 in seed funding and six months of business coaching, provided by local business entrepreneurs.
“The competition was the first time I had presented the prototype where it actually powered something as I have just been testing the voltage and amperage, so that was a key moment for me,” he says.
Ultimately, I want to sell this product as a panel that can output 240 volts – the amount required to power an entire house.
Next up for Ben is another Teens in Business entrepreneurial competition, where he hopes to become the 2023 Australian youth Entrepreneur of the Year, which will enable him to further advance his prototype and access more seed funding. He is also fielding international enquiries from venture capitalists and additionally aims to apply for government grants to further develop and manufacture his prototype.
Ben says the Science teachers at Northern Beaches Christian School, which he has attended since pre-school, have offered support and encouragement along the way: “Mr Levin and Ms Gibson have helped answer some of my questions about my approach and have been good support and have occasionally lent me pieces of lab equipment for my experiments.”
The young inventor says he plans to invent more useful technologies in the future. “I’d say Science is my favourite subject. Once I finish developing the NitroNet, I plan to continue to try and find solutions to real world problems using scientific methods, and plan to make them accessible to the world through my business, Watergate Labs,” he says.
To follow Ben’s journey, check into his website: watergatelabs.com